Jim Carty: Essence of Community Building

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by Jim Carty

You are your community. You are your community. If we were to check what Merriam-Webster said about the definition of “community” they would tell you about, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. Community is also described as “a feeling of fellowship with others, a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals”.

I am sure that the smart people at the Webster dictionary company are right about a community being a group of people living in the same place. Nevertheless, for me – you are your community. In fact, more than that. When you are at your best, you are your community.

As a child, I often heard about the Good Samaritan. In the lesson, Christ was describing what it meant to be a good neighbour, a member of the community. As the story goes, while traveling on the road to Jericho, a man is attacked and beaten, robbed of his clothes and left for dead. After a time, a man from Samaria came along the traveller. Taking pity on him, he bandaged the man’s wounds and took him to an inn to care for him. The next day, the Samaritan paid the innkeeper and told him, “take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you any other expenses there may be”. Here is a man, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Presumably miles from safety. Without the help of our Samaritan, we can only assume that he would have died.

What is it within us that compels us to act on behalf of others?…to place others’ needs above our own? To do “the right thing”. When I was nine or ten, my mother and I were both collectors. She collected silver dollars, and I collected hockey cards. While I may not have had the insight to recognize the potential value of either of our collections in future, I did understand that Mom’s collection was money and could be traded for more hockey cards. The local store owner was a friend of the family. In hindsight, I assume that he knew that Mom collected coins, in particular, silver dollars.

I learned two lessons that day. Not counting of course, the lesson that my father taught me about taking things that don’t belong to me. First, some people do the right thing, just because it is right. Secondly, a little boy on bicycle weighed down with a case of hockey cards is not as fast as a telephone. 1 Why would someone do what’s right? Why did the store owner forgo the sale and call my parents? Why should he care? Why do some people go so far as to allow themselves be put into harm’s way for another person? It is simply because, “it’s their job”?

I would venture to guess that there are first responders in the room who are more than qualified to find work in a field that would not place them in danger on a daily basis. There has to be more to it than simply a “job”. Much more.

In the early 40’s, Abraham Maslow produced his paper titled: “A Theory of Human Motivation”. In it, he identified a variety of fundamental needs, a list of desires that motivate our actions and most basic choices. These needs are commonly illustrated as a pyramid, with the most basic, fundamental needs creating a base upon which each of the higher levels rest. Until the primary needs are met, no higher, loftier thoughts are considered. The first two needs that Maslow described were Physiological and Safety. These addressed our most basic and fundamental requirements. Air, water & food. Shelter, clothing and safety and security. People will go to extreme lengths in order to ensure that these two needs are met.

There are examples of this throughout our current news from the refugee crisis in the Middle East to the many stories of people lost and alone in the wilderness. It is simply amazing what someone can endure in order to survive. Maslow identified three other areas of motivation beyond our initial Physiological and Safety needs, yet without these first two being secured, most people are unable to look beyond themselves. Unable to consider, much less impact, the needs, desires or conditions of those around them, those within our community.

Even as passengers on an airplane, we are instructed to put on our own mask, before assisting people with us. If we don’t or can’t take care of ourselves first, it is unlikely that we have as much attention for others. Gratefully, based on the simple fact that you are here, in this room, you have the opportunity to address the first two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Living in Canada, either as a natural born citizen, a recent immigrant, or even working here as a representative of another country – you are in a position to obtain air to breathe, water and the food in order to meet your most basic physiological needs. (And sometimes too much food.) While not everyone in Canada, or even everyone in this room may profess to have “made it”. I do believe, that by nature of being here, we have opportunities aplenty to secure ourselves financially, and resources to obtain and maintain our health and well-being. We are blessed, blessed beyond measure.

I, for one, regularly need to remind myself of just how fortunate I am. 2 Having attained the second step in Maslow’s Hierarchy, we, (you and I), are now able to look beyond ourselves. We are able to continue toward the top three levels of his model, those areas as Maslow describes them: Love or a sense of belonging; self-esteem; and self-actualization. It is these three areas that I feel provide the path to our best selves, and to strong, vibrant communities. It is here that we are able to begin the transformation necessary to become – our best selves. The third level of needs Maslow describes is love or a sense of belonging. What better way to describe the beauty of community.

I imagine that it was love and a sense of belonging that moved our Samaritan to care for the wounded man. You build communities when you are available for those people around you. When your family, your friends and colleagues can depend on you and you on them.

My wife and I, and our sons, have spent the better part of 15 years providing foster care to children, primarily infants, who for a variety of reasons, find themselves in need of a safe family environment. Over the time that our home has been open, close to three dozen children spent time as part of our family. We have been able to see firsthand the difference that a sense of belonging can make in the life of a person. Being accepted and valued by yourself and others is what Maslow defined as esteem. Weakness in this area reveals itself when we worry more about what people around us think rather than simply doing the right thing.

While it was our Samaritan was who stopped to help the victim, he wasn’t the first upon the scene. The parable speaks of two others who also saw the man. Each of them, we are told, passed by on the other side. I am not going to try to explain reasons that the priest and Levite passed by. I will tell you however that there are people sitting against buildings, signs and lampposts around my office downtown each day that I simply walk past. People looking for help. People looking for a neighbour.

Earlier this month, I was walking from our office to the Rideau Centre with a colleague. I was going to the food court for lunch, and she was going shopping for new jeans. I think you would agree that we were beyond the basic need for food or shelter. From our building at right across the street here, it was about a 10 minute walk. As we came up to the doors of the mall, she looked over to a man leaning up against a walker near the wall, looking for people to give him change. “Hi John.” She said it in passing, as if she has greeted him many times in the past. When I commented about it, she told me that he normally stands on the other side of the street, unless the wind is blowing, as it was that day. She shared that she occasionally buys John coffee and chats to “check up on him”. It seems that he has had several walkers and even wheelchairs stolen from him over the years as he makes his 3 way from the shelter to the streets and back again. So what is the point?

What am I getting at? Maybe you are thinking “who cares”? There are always people who are “down and out”. This is true. Yet I would point you to the fifth and highest level of needs. Upon attainment of shelter and safety. When you have people around you, who love you and care for you, and you them. Once you begin to develop an accurate self-image and truly value yourself Maslow teaches that the final need arises. “What a man can be, he must be.” This is what Maslow saw as self-actualization.

Our daily actions, great or small, create our legacies. They create the inheritance that we leave to our families and loved ones. And they create our communities. A hundred years from now, when your grandchildren are speaking to their children in front of the fireplace, what will they say of you? Will they know who you are, what you’ve done, or stood for? What form of legacy will they inherit?

Know this, each of us will leave a legacy, the real question is, will the life you live leave the legacy that you desire? Will the actions you take create a community that you want to be part of? Clearly, none of us can do everything. Yet, each of us can do something. If each of us take one small step to care for those around us, all of us will be better off, as will our community.

After all, you are your community.

About the writer

Jim Carty is a real estate broker with Cresa Ottawa. The above is his keynote speeech at the 2016 Ottawa Black History Month gala hosted by the Global  Community Alliance, at the Sheraton Hotel on 27 February, 2016. He can be reached at: Jim Carty jim@altimark.com 4

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